Chef Omo: the man behind UA menus

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Michelle Tomaszkowicz | The Daily Wildcat Chef Omo using the tempered chocolate machie used for baking on 3/29/17

Almost 30,000 meals are served and consumed every day here at the UA. From well-known franchises like Burger King and Panda Express to home-grown creations like The Cellar and the newly created Nrich Urban Market, the UA offers a wide variety of eatery options for students. 

Of course, someone has to oversee this gigantic dining operation, and much of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of UA Senior Executive Chef Michael Omo.

Omo has served in this position for the past three-and-a-half years. Before bringing his culinary skills to the UA, Omo worked at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas, where he ran the entire dining operation. Prior to that, he worked at hotels in Los Angeles and received a culinary degree from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon.

Omo said he knew he wanted to be a chef ever since he was in high school. During those days, he was involved at an on-campus restaurant, where he learned about management, cooking and food service.

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“I started dabbling in cooking on my own and felt I had a knack for it,” he said. “I liked being able to create different dishes and different things like that.”

After deciding he wanted a change of pace from the 24/7 world of Las Vegas, Omo looked for other avenues in the same field, which led him to the UA.

“I really liked the college setting because they were setting the trend at the time and still are setting the trend now,” Omo said. “A lot of the rise of plant-based products and more nutritional-style items came from the collegiate world, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.”

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Omo oversees any and all food sold on the UA campus.

“I believe that everything needs to taste good,” he said. “If it doesn’t taste good, then you’re not going to eat it. So we work really hard to make sure everything we produce tastes really good and that it’s nutritious for you.”

One of the newest creations by Omo and his team is Nrich Urban Market, now open in the Student Union Memorial Center.

“Nrich basically culminates everything that we’ve been working on, showing that things can be good for you and still taste really great,” Omo said.

Omo and his team are heavily involved in Nrich and the other restaurants unique to the UA campus. As for the corporate franchises on campus like Panda Express and Papa John’s, Omo still oversees them in part, just not to the extent of the home-grown restaurants.

“I don’t really oversee the quality of those, but I do oversee how we get it and how we execute it,” he said.

There is no typical workday in Omo’s job, but his day generally begins around 6:30 a.m. and can often last until 6-7 p.m., sometimes later depending on whether any banquet functions or things of that nature are going on.

Having worked in both the hotel/casino industry and the college setting, Omo has gained unique insight into different food demographics.

“The college student is the more picky eater than the casino person,” he said. “In the casino industry, it is all about making it look fancy, and within the college setting it is all about how nutritious can we do it or how healthy is it or how price-conscious we need to be with it.”

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Even though the majority of students may not aspire to become executive chefs, we could all still learn a thing or two from Omo.

“I think it’s really cool to work with students because a lot of people I work with aren’t necessarily looking to enter food service, but I like to be able to teach them a life skill,” he said. “You’re going to have to boil pasta and cook chicken the rest of your life, but if I can teach you how to do it the best way possible, you can pass that knowledge down forever.”

One of Omo’s signature creations in recent years is the grilled cheese lollipop, which also happens to be a favorite of UA President Ann Weaver Hart.

Omo’s passion for creating these unique culinary creations makes it clear how much he loves his job.

“The way I look at my job is I have fun every day at it, so I’m really not working anymore,” he said.


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